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Double Indemnity
Year:
1944
Country:
USA
Genre:
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
8.4
Director:
Billy Wilder
Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff
Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson
Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes
Porter Hall as Mr. Jackson
Jean Heather as Lola Dietrichson
Tom Powers as Mr. Dietrichson
Byron Barr as Nino Zachetti
Richard Gaines as Edward S. Norton, Jr.
Fortunio Bonanova as Sam Garlopis
John Philliber as Joe Peters
George Anderson as Warden at Execution (scenes deleted)
Al Bridge as Execution Chamber Guard (scenes deleted)
Edward Hearn as Warden's Secretary (scenes deleted)
Boyd Irwin as First Doctor at Execution (scenes deleted)
George Melford as Second Doctor at Execution (scenes deleted)
William O'Leary as Chaplain at Execution (scenes deleted)
Storyline: In 1938, Walter Neff, an experienced salesman of the Pacific All Risk Insurance Co., meets the seductive wife of one of his clients, Phyllis Dietrichson, and they have an affair. Phyllis proposes to kill her husband to receive the proceeds of an accident insurance policy and Walter devises a scheme to receive twice the amount based on a double indemnity clause. When Mr. Dietrichson is found dead on a train-track, the police accept the determination of accidental death. However, the insurance analyst and Walter's best friend Barton Keyes does not buy the story and suspects that Phyllis has murdered her husband with the help of another man.
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Reviews
Ture Noir Film
Paramount Studio's 1944 release Double Indemnity is one of the best examples of true-to-form film noir. The plot of the film is straightforward. Fueled by greed, a wife decides to take out an insurance policy on her unsuspecting husband, with plans of murdering him for the proceeds. The policy contains a double indemnity clause, which will pay twice the policy amount in the event of death by accident. To make her plan succeed, she enlists the help of an accomplice to help murder her spouse and make it seem accidental.

Adapted from a novel by James M. Cain, Double Indemnity is loosely based on the real-life Snyder-Gray murder case of 1927, in which a New York housewife persuaded her young lover to commit murder. The woman had taken out a double indemnity life insurance policy on her husband without his knowledge. The murder succeeded but the killers were caught and executed the following year. Just as actual events influenced the making of this film, Double Indemnity has influenced numerous movies based on the same premise, the most notable of which are 1946's The Postman Always Rings Twice and 1981's Body Heat.

The film stars Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff, a fast-talking insurance salesman, attempting to pull the perfect fraud job. It is Fred MacMurray who is narratting the film. Of course he didn't start out with that idea - it all stated when he met, and immediately fell for, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). From there the tale she spins of her unhappy marriage, complicated by a tempestuous relationship with stepdaughter Lola, takes him on the slippery slope to crime. With his extensive knowledge of the insurance business, nothing can stop Walter from covering his tracks ingeniously… except the analytical skills of his friend, the fraud investigator Barton Keyes.

Frequently told in flashbacks, this movie is utterly compelling from the word go. It's interesting to ponder whether this film could have had the same impact if it had been shot in colour - but I don't think so. The filming is spot on, the camera angles, use of shadow and perspectives on the actors all add to the tension of the film. The screen does sometimes get so dark as to be impossible to tell what's going on in a couple of scenes, but this is done deliberately so as to add to the suspense.

The film is very wordy, as so many films of the era were and the dialogue is often brilliant. Billy Wilder's direction is another part of the key to this film's being in the IMDb Top 250 Movies of All Time list and also features in the Top 50 among the IMDb Film Noir list in fact at # 3 when I last saw it. There are moments of humour to lighten the mood and scenes of compelling drama / intrigue / emotion. With the excellent acting, awesome script and breathtaking art direction / cinematography it makes one of the best films of all time in a lot of peoples' list - including mine.

In case you didn't know (I didn't), the term "Double Indemnity" refers to an insurance clause where a double payment is handed out if someone whose life is insured dies in an unusual manner. Theoretically of course the chances of this happening are remote, meaning little danger of them ever having to pay it out… and cases when someone has died in this manner shortly after taking out a life insurance policy would automatically be viewed as suspicious. The way Walter covers his tracks, and the way Barton uncovers them, are quite brilliant and show (to a layman at least) a deep knowledge of the insurance business.

Double Indemnity was nominated for no less that seven Oscars; sadly it didn't win a single one. But from 1944, it's popularity has increased year after year and when you talk of noir movies DOuble Indemnity instantly come to ones mind.
2009-03-06
One of the best films noir ever, Double Indemnity communicates with amazing effectiveness the depths of depravity, greed, lust, and betrayal of the seemingly innocent and beautiful.
This is one of the best films of all time, not necessarily because of its story but because of the acting, direction, cinematography, lighting, and just the way that the story itself was told. At the time the film was released, the idea of revealing who the killer was in the opening scene was virtually unheard of, but it ended up being very effective because it allowed the audience to concentrate more on other elements of the film, which was the goal of Billy Wilder, the director. Instead of trying to figure out who the perpetrator was, there is more emphasis on how the crime was pulled off, what mistakes were made during the murder, who betrayed who, how close Barton Keyes (the insurance investigator) was getting to solving the case, and, probably most importantly, what kind of person Walter Neff is and whether or not sympathy should be felt toward him.

Barbara Stanwyck, in one of the most remembered performances of her extensive career, represents (with nearly flawless ease) the cold and ruthless manipulator who has no difficulty in ruining other people's lives in various ways (including death, if necessary) in order to get what she wants. Known in the film community as the `femme fatale,' this is someone who uses her sexual prowess, seductiveness, and emotional detachment to drag an unsuspecting person (generally an interested man) into a scheme from which she is expected to benefit heavily and he is most likely headed for destruction. In these types of films, the man often either finds his life in ruins or ends up dead, as is often (but not always) also the case with the fate of the femme fatale.

Barbara Stanwyck (as Phyllis Dietrichson, the murderous femme fatale in Double Indemnity) and Fred MacMurray (as Walter Neff, her ‘victim'), have amazing chemistry on screen. Their attraction is incredibly well portrayed, and the development of their relationship with each other is so convincing that what happens between them almost seems normal. Besides that, their mutually calculated interaction, although it seems at first like it has been rehearsed endlessly and ultimately brought unconvincingly to the screen, is exactly as it was meant to be, because it represents each character's intentions, even very subtly foreshadowing their future betrayals against each other. Phyllis has gone through every word she ever says to Walter in her head. She has practiced what she wants to say when she brings up the idea of life insurance to Walter in the beginning and she knows what she wants to say whenever they interact with each other because she has been planning for quite some time the prospect of murdering her husband in order to collect his fortune. Walter, conversely, methodically makes amorous advances as though this is something that he does regularly, and then ultimately he also plans out his conversations with Phyllis because he begins to suspect her and is sure to tell her only what he wants her to hear. This seemingly stiff dialogue brilliantly represents Phyllis and Walter's precise (and sinister) intentions, and it's quick pace creates a feeling of urgency and restlessness.

Probably the most fascinating and entertaining actor in the film, Edward G. Robinson, plays Barton Keyes, Walter's friend and employer at the insurance company where he works. Keyes is a very suspicious man who closely investigates the insurance claims which come into the company, having a striking history of accurately isolating fraudulent claims and throwing them out. His handling of Phyllis's (and Walter's, technically) claim and the way that he gets closer and closer to the truth create a great atmosphere of tension and drama.

Double Indemnity is nearly flawless. From the shocking and unexpected beginning to the already known but still surprising end, the audience is held rapt by the excellent performances, the brilliant and imaginative direction, and the flawlessly created atmosphere. This is excellent, excellent filmmaking, and is a classic film that should not be missed.
2000-11-08
Honeysuckle and murder
I teach critical viewing of film in high school and since this is the best film noir ever made, I showed it in the fall of 2005 to my classes, only to be met with universal hatred and scorn. Nothing about the film pleased and I was rather disheartened. Later in the year, however, several kids said that they think they probably couldn't appreciate it that early in the course and suggested that I save it for later in the year.

So, I showed it in spring of 2007 and got a completely different reaction! The kids loved it and several were rather bowled over by the use of light and shadow and how it contributed to the over-all tone of the film. I also had by this time a really good documentary to show with it that gave good insights into the making of the film which I think helped as well.

Anyway, my hope in the ultimate taste of the adolescent restored, this film will remain a late entry in my syllabus.
2007-07-09
An Odd Triangle
No need to recap the plot or echo consensus points.

From the minute he sees her slinking down the stairs in that spangled ankle bracelet, he's hooked. Walter Neff's already boarded that long, lonely trolley down the one-way track. Yes indeed, sultry Phyllis appears to be just the ticket he's been looking for. Great noir classic. All in all, Neff should have paid attention to that other member of the oddball triangle. Old man Keyes may be a born cynic, but despite himself, he's a father figure looking for a son to take his place, and warning Neff about the "Margie's" of the world. What he doesn't know is that this "Margie" definitely doesn't drink out of a bottle. What's more, Neff's already chosen to ride with the flashy crowd, get out of that dumpy apartment, and get into Phyllis's vicious little insurance swindle. As Keyes tellingly remarks, "You're not smarter than the rest, Walter, just a little taller. I like to think that Walter finally realizes his folly in that brilliant final scene, even if it is too late. Still, the film's cynical veneer is misleading. Because beneath all the deceits, betrayals, and ironies, lies a lighted match and one of the odder father-son relationships in Hollywood annals.
2013-04-24
Anytime You Want A Husband Turned Into Cold Cash
Billy Wilder's cynical self came to public attention in this classic noir film about a luckless insurance salesman and one coldhearted dame. Double Indemnity skirted the very edges of Code morality and it took years before someone brought James M. Cain's novel to the screen.

According to a book on Billy Wilder the casting of Barbara Stanwyck was a must for Phyllis Dietrichson, otherwise the film might never have been made. Barbara Stanwyck was that rarest of players, one who could be good and convincing in all kinds of parts. Look at the films she got her four Oscar nominations besides Double Indemnity, Stella Dallas, Ball of Fire, and Sorry Wrong Number. Not one of those is similar to any one of the others and Stanwyck was acclaimed in all of them.

Fortunately for Wilder and for Paramount's budget, their leading man was right on the lot. Fred MacMurray who has been playing comedic foils for folks like Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, etc. up to that time, made the most of playing the feckless Walter Neff who gets sucked into a homicidal scheme through passion.

Double Indemnity is a landmark film in that it's two leads are really rotten people. Barbara Stanwyck has a husband in Tom Powers she can't stand and would like to bump him off for an insurance settlement and MacMurray's the insurance salesman she beguiles into her plot. Funny thing is that when the mechanics of the murder plot are discussed and formulated, the ideas are all MacMurray's.

Billy Wilder made two other films similar to Double Indemnity where a weak protagonist gets caught up in a filthy scheme. In Sunset Boulevard William Holden plays the gigolo way to well and can't break from unto pain of death. And Kirk Douglas's scheme about exploiting the tragedy of a man trapped in a cave brings him down all the way in Ace in the Hole. I'd be hard pressed to say which of the three men was worse.

The man who brings them down is Edward G. Robinson, the claims investigator in the insurance office where MacMurray works. Robinson is gradually putting the whole thing together and Wilder is at his best with the scenes of Robinson explaining the progress of his investigation to MacMurray with Fred trying to stay one step ahead.

Robinson doesn't usually get enough praise for Double Indemnity. He's got a little man, Hercule Poirot has those little grey cells. Either way both are up to the challenge of solving what looks like a perfect crime. Lot's of Agatha Christie's Belgian sleuth in James M. Cain's Barton Keyes.

Wilder for the one and only time in his career worked with another great mystery writer in Raymond Chandler on the script. It was not a pleasant experience for either. Chandler complained about the working conditions of Hollywood and Wilder complained about Chandler's dissipation. Both were probably right.

Among the supporting cast look for a nice performance by Porter Hall who turns out not to be as valuable witness as Robinson originally thought. The man from Medford may not lie, but he's not above a little chiseling.

Double Indemnity is one eternal classic it will be studied and dissected by film students for centuries.
2006-12-16
Didn't Get The Money. Didn't Get The Girl.
*Possible Spoilers!*

Released in 1944 - Double Indemnity's story of vicious betrayal may be somewhat flawed and inconsistent - And, its 3 principal actors may have been miscast (especially Barbara Stanwyck as the deceitfully wicked femme fatale in a really cheap-looking wig) - But, overall, it's quite easy to see why this vintage, Hollywood Crime/Drama is considered to be a true "classic" of 1940s Film Noir.

Containing plenty of loaded dialog, shadowy settings and frequent flashes of well-timed tension, Double Indemnity's story of murder and deception comes together quite nicely like that of a master jigsaw puzzle where all of the scattered pieces of its plot-line eventually become one.

Even though I view Double Indemnity as essentially a "Chick Flick", its story is told (chiefly in long flashbacks) by a man who was directly involved in this double-crossing crime-of-passion that went seriously haywire.

Fred MacMurray plays Walter Neff, an over-confident, yet naively gullible insurance salesman, who, thinking that he's got it all figured out, gets played for an all-time sucker when the seductive, well-to-do Mrs. Dietrichson snares him into a diabolical plot to kill her husband in order to collect $100,000 through the double indemnity clause in his life insurance policy.

Needless to say, once Neff gets himself completely tangled up in a web of establishing alibis (while setting the wheels of the "perfect" crime into motion), things literally begin to come apart at the seams once he inadvertently learns about the treacherous activities (both past and present) of the calculating and conniving Mrs. Dietrichson.

Filmed in glossy b&w, Double Indemnity's story was co-written by the famed crime-novelist, Raymond Chandler. It was directed by Billy Wilder, known for such other notable films as - Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, The Seven Year Itch, and Some Like It Hot.
2013-10-22
Justifiably At The Top Of Most Film Noir Lists
This is one of the best-liked classic films of all time and I am among that large group of fans as well.

Few movies have ever had dialog this entertaining.....at least the conversations between Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. I think it's a big appeal to this movie, except to younger folks who look at it as "cheesy."

I read the book, Double Indemnity written by James Cain, and was surprised that the film's snappy dialog was not in it. This is one of the rare times when the movie was far better than the book. That's not a shock after you find out that literary giant Raymond Chandler and Hall Of Fame director Billy Wilder combined to write the screenplay,

For a murder/suspense story, there is very little action, almost none, yet there are no boring lulls. The three main actors - Stanwyck, MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson, are what make this so good.

MacMurray's narration is fun to hear as he tells the story in flashback, from the beginning by dictating into an old Dictaphone to his co-worker Robinson. The latter is almost mesmerizing in his performance, the way he delivers his lines. He can even make a speech about something as boring as insurance and still keep you riveted to the screen.

Stanwyck was no sex symbol (at least to me) but she looked great here in the most seductive of 1940s clothing and, like Robinson, has a distinctive voice and accent that keeps your attention.

This film was the inspiration for the 1980 movie, "Body Heat," starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner. That, too, was a very, very good movie....but not many films are in the class of this one.
2005-12-23
The First Truly Great Noir
"The Maltese Falcon" is generally considered to be the very first film noir, but Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" is the first GREAT noir. With actors that perfectly understood Wilder's penchant for black as tar humour, this film is as seedy, dark and many times funny as they come. Barbara Stanwyck is a knockout as the classic femme fatale, complete with cheap blonde wig and ankle bracelets. Fred MacMurray makes a terrific dope, his silly machimso preventing him from realizing that Stanwyck is one step ahead of him through the entire film. And Edward G. Robinson shines as usual in a small but important role.

For me, this film breaks new ground in the hard-boiled/detective/murder mystery genre. I believe it was a bit of a flop when it came out, but that's easy to understand. Films that in retrospect prove themselves to be cutting edge are frequently dismissed at the time of their release. "Double Indemnity" doesn't have the look of other studio films of its period, not even other gritty detective films of its period. The lighting is stark and grimy; you can almost see every speck of dust in the shafts of light slanting in through the windows. Wilder gets the feel of a corrupt L.A. just right. But even more than its look, the film is years ahead of its time in its moral tone. Not only do the characters in this film not find redemption, they appear to be unredeemable. Each shows him/herself to be colder and more cynical than the other, and there's a "Bonnie and Clyde"-like inevitability to their eventual fates.

Simply sensational. And watch for the list of "supposin'"s MacMurray and Stanwyck throw back and forth at each other in one scene. It's hilarious and perfect, and those who've seen the film will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Grade: A+
2005-07-05
Sharp. Really sharp.
This is a dynamite piece of filmmaking by Billy Wilder. Wilder is in my opinion a very underrated director, much like John Houston. The acting is in top form from all of the players. The cinematography is crisp, and beautiful. The sound is nice and clear, and the direction is arguably some of Wilder's best. However, the real star is the screenplay. First off, it was taken from excellent source material. James Cain is always great for a story where nobody wins out. Check out The Postman Always Rings Twice for an example. But it is Chandler who I think really put this one on the map. Chandler has a way with dialogue that makes it all ring in your ears. The lines are smooth, and the characters always say something that makes me wish I could be that clever and smooth in everyday situations. Chandler knows dialogue, Chandler knows LA, and Chandler knows how to deliver a story. Check out any of his novels, and you will see this. This is a teamup that I really wish would have happened again. Oh well. If you don't mind voice over narration, then this is a film for you.
2004-02-26
One of the finest noirs, Wilders, and, yes, films ever!
It's definitely hard to pin down a personal favourite Wilder film, though I tend towards his earlier masterworks such as 'The Lost Weekend', 'Sunset Boulevard'...and THIS. He was one of the finest at getting straight through the bullshit and to the heart of all things noir (as the immortal Jean-Luc Godard stated, 'All I need to make a film is a man, a girl and a gun').

Barbara Stanwyck is one of my favourite actresses of the period, and is a classic 'femme fatale'. I've never been a huge fan of Fred MacMurray, but his 'nice guy' persona is used to sheer advantage by Wilder, and he end up both doing his finest work for Wilder (here and in 'The Apartment') and being the ultimate noir male protagonist. Interestingly, one of my favourite actors, Edward G. Robinson, thought so much of the script that he opted out of his demand of never doing a supporting role. Many people admire Wilder the director, but as a writer (or co-writer) he's just as cinematically important and influential.

Like any other film of his, at least that I've had the pleasure to see, it's worth a purchase and re-watches. The dialogue, especially, is simply fantastic. I'd take just one of his early works over a hundred of the films Hollywood churns out nowadays. They're simply that better and intrinsically satisfying. Immortal cinema.
2016-09-22
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